When I was elected to the Senate, I immediately sought and secured a seat on the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. With more than 76,000 veterans in Alaska—the most per capita in the nation—we must focus on the critical need for expanded veteran’s health care, job training and placement, mental health support and housing assistance.
I strongly supported efforts to increase funding for veterans program by 20 percent and create two-year budgeting for the Veterans Administration (VA) to ensure our veterans receive the benefits they earned fighting for our country. These changes allowed the Veterans Administration to add more claims processors to cut the huge backlog of disability claims and tackle the growing number of homeless veterans in our country.
We need more services for our rural veterans. I introduced the Alaska Heroes Card to allow Alaska veterans to receive health care in their own community, rather than traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to receive care in Anchorage or Seattle. Today, rural veterans can get care in their communities thanks to historic agreements between the Veterans Administration and Alaska tribal health providers.
I have worked to educate federal officials about the challenges facing rural Alaska. I chaired Senate hearings in Anchorage and Fairbanks, and the past three years, we have brought VA Secretary Erik Shinseki and the Labor Assistant Secretary to rural Alaska communities to see first-hand the challenges our veterans face in the most remote part of America. We were successful in our argument for a new office within the VA specifically focused on supporting American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian veterans.